About this piece: news article, written for and on behalf on charity Trafford Rape Crisis, who I volunteer for. Published March 2019. The centre was actually approached by the BBC to appear on Breakfast and discuss the issue; as marketing and media representative, I was the nominated volunteer to appear. The interview recording also features below.
Survivor Fern has partnered the End Violence Against Women coalition and waivered her anonymity to appeal to government for sufficient, sustainable funding to ensure no survivor is turned away.
TRC was invited to speak on BBC Breakfast alongside Fern Champion, rape survivor and activist, to discuss the funding challenges facing Rape Crisis centres in the UK.
(TRC volunteer Becki joined Fern Champion on the BBC Breakfast sofa to discuss her petition to government for increased funding. Video copyright of BBC.)
Sign the petition: No Survivor Turned Away
Fern was raped when travelling abroad. On her return to the UK, she sought out specialist counselling support from her local Rape Crisis Centre to begin her recovery from the trauma. Due to the heavy demand placed on the centre and a significant lack of funding, her crisis centre had been forced to close its waiting list. Fern was turned away and unable to access the support she needed.
Despite trying again repeatedly over the following 8 months, Fern was told that huge numbers of women were waiting to access support. It began to have a serious impact on her mental health.
“Nearly two years on from the attack I was experiencing severe stress, lack of sleep, migraines and I was having flashbacks during my sleep which had started to creep into my waking hours too. I was self-medicating on alcohol just to get by. Every time I was rejected help from Rape Crisis, my mental health spiralled further beyond my control until suddenly I just couldn’t go on any longer.”
Fern speaks after her experience in a video campaign on the End Violence Against Women coalition website.
Fern eventually accessed private counselling support thanks to her employer. Now, she is appealing to government to increase funding for life-saving support services to prevent other survivors from being turned away. Her letter to Prime Minister Theresa May on change.org is accompanied by a petition that currently (correct as of 22 March 2019) stands at more than 148,000 signatures.
Counselling services offered through the public health system are subject to long waiting times and typically only offer on average 6-8 sessions for each individual. For women who have experienced this highly complex trauma, this support is insufficient.
To deliver specialist counselling that will meet the complex needs of users, counsellors must undertake trauma-informed training that explores the nature of sexual violence and abuse, and its long-term impact on victims and survivors.
TRC opened its Face-to-Face counselling services in February of this year, following a successful pilot in 2018. Despite clear demand for the service, funding is only guaranteed for a year and covers just one part-time paid position and a portion of setup costs for the service. The centre will have to rely on volunteer counsellors to meet demand, and fund training to ensure they can deliver the right kind of support.
The service is offered for up to 26 weeks, compared to the 6-8 week average. Just 6 weeks after formally launching and accepting referrals, TRC already has women on a waiting list requesting support. Current funding restrictions mean we aren’t able to offer immediate support.
“It is out mission at TRC to believe, support and empower the women who come to us,” says Becki, TRC volunteer.
“Many will have suffered a highly complex trauma, the impact of which can last for many, many years. Without specialist support, women may suffer a significant impact on their mental health, including associated issues such as self-harm, anxiety, dissociation, drug or alcohol abuse, depression, or even suicide ideation.
“Rape Crisis support services are life-saving for these women. However, due to resource and funding restrictions, we aren’t able to support everyone who needs us. Our funding is limited and unsustainable; we’re having to reapply every year, with no guarantee that we’ll receive funding or even be able to remain open the following year. This reactive way of operating means we can’t make long-term plans or grow as a centre.”
The Istanbul Convention, or Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, sets out standards and legal protections for the prevention of violence against women, support services for victims, and prosecution of offenders. The UK government has been promising to ratify the convention, which opened for signatures in May 2011, for a number of years. It has yet to sign.
In line with the standards set out, England and Wales should have at least 150 Rape Crisis centres to offer support. Currently, there are just 44.
“Help me, hold this government to account for the complete failure to ensure rape counselling services are there when survivors need them,” Fern writes in her change.org petition.
“Tell Theresa May that every victim of sexual violence and abuse has the right to access independent specialist support services in the community the moment they seek it, and to get long term counselling that will help them recover.”
Join Fern Champion in her bid to ensure #NoSurvivorTurnedAway: sign the petition today.